What does the term "organic" mean? Will eating organic foods boost your health?
The term "organic" denotes a method or philosophy of growing food that is sustainable and friendly to the environment. The general idea is to produce as much food as the local farm environment (or farm ecosystem) can support while at the same time not threatening the health or diversity of any plant or animal populations within that ecosystem.
A major concern in organic farming is to maintain the fertility and renewability of the soil. This is achieved through different practices such as crop rotations, inter-cropping, and use of green manure (plants that are grown for the sole purpose of being returned to the soil as a high-nutrient fertilizer).
Other focal points of organic farming include:
- protecting the environment
- protecting the biological diversity of the ecosystem
- recycling and conserving resources
- promoting the health of livestock (through techniques such as adequate housing, prohibition of synthetic hormones or food additives, and reduction of stress)
- maintaining the integrity of the food through to point of sale (e.g., organic foods may not be irradiated [a process used to kill bacteria and parasites])
While there's much to know about organic products, it's important to keep in mind that the term refers to principles of agriculture. It does not have any claims specific to the health, nutrition, or safety of the food.
In Canada, the standards for organic production are enforced by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Demand for organic food is increasing, and there are national regulations for organic standards and a certification program, including requirements for labelling standards. Such measures assure consumers that all foods sold under this designation are indeed in compliance with the term "organic." For further information on these standards, please see www.inspection.gc.ca.
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